Augustana - All the Stars and Boulevards
Release Date: September 6, 2005
Record Label: Epic
Augustana vocalist Dan Layus croons “Are we gonna make it?” amidst falsetto “ooh”s in the choruses of the opening track on All the Stars and Boulevards, and by the end of the album, it’s easy to come up with an answer for him: yes. Perhaps he’s not even talking about the fate of his band, but that’s all I could think about while listening to Augustana’s debut—this band has the songs and the budget (a budget of “Epic” proportions, mind you) to make it big. Normally, bands which are tagged as possible mainstream successes aren’t exactly all that great (there are exceptions, of course). Make no mistake though: I would kill to hear bands like Augustana on the radio.
Playing a brand of mellow, laid back indie rock (think Days Away meets Travis meets Lovedrug), Augustana is pretty chill, but they don’t lack energy. Songs like “Bullets” and “Lonely People” have pretty aggressive, high-tempo choruses. Sure, there are ballads a-plenty, such as “Wasteland,” and “California’s Burning” but Augustana does a nice job mixing it up tempo-wise. The vocals sort of remind me of the guy from Our Lady Peace (or Travis? Train?) at times (“Stars and Boulevards”), or some band like that. I don’t really listen to the radio enough to tell you who exactly the vocalist sounds like—but I know it’s someone. I just can’t put my finger on it. The music is pretty much driven by jangly, clean/lightly distorted guitars and slightly delayed, reverb-ed leads, and it seems that everything gets kicked up a notch in the choruses, as layers of guitars fill in, amplifying and thickening up the sound. Pianos make brief appearances on the CD as well. I bet Augustana has either those nice Orange amps or vintage Fender stuff—maybe that will help describe the guitar tones/the vibe on the album for all you guitar geeks out there.
I definitely have some favorite tracks on the album. The choruses of “Bullets” and “Hotel Roosevelt” (a very Lovedrug-esque song, vocally) are downright huge, with urgent vocals making them some of the more attention-grabbing songs on the CD. I bet there won’t be a single review of this album that doesn’t mention “Boston,” a beautiful ballad led by a playful, flowing piano, complete with falsettos, interleaving guitar lead arpeggios, and very subtle electric keyboards. “Feel Fine” opens with a great, spacey guitar lead over mid-tempo instrumentation, only to give way to a stripped down, slowed-down verse, though the verse is eventually layered with bending, echo-y clean guitars. The cool intro riff comes back throughout the song and is just a treat. “Sunday Best” is my favorite song—it’s an acoustic track with light drumming that features a mandolin lead and some electric organ work; it is simply gorgeous.
Augustana is a band that I would love to see get huge. I find it kind of weird that they’re making a splash in our scene, but I’m all for it. Good music is good music, and though I know I keep saying they have a “mainstream” sound, they’re not like Default or Audioslave, or anything close to that. I think they have a tinge of “emo” in them, so please don’t be frightened off. Fans of Days Away will definitely like this band, especially with their beautiful, down to earth, organic sound, and I hope Epic pushes them hard. All the Stars and Boulevards sounds like the work of a very mature, experienced band, not a debut.
The album's title track, "Bullets", and "Boston" are all beautifully constructed songs. I admire them for a genuine sense of flow, and solid piano appearances in a scene that usually wouldn't embrace it.